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Pacific News Minute: Bikini Islanders Face New Exile from Sea Level Rise


Last week, the Bikini Council approved resolutions, asking the U.S. Government for help to relocate, yet again. The population of the famous atoll was evacuated ahead of nuclear weapons tests in the 1940s, their home remains radioactive and their island of exile has been inundated by high waves at least five times in the last four years. More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

In 1946, Bikini Islanders relocated voluntarily, in the belief that they would be able to move back home fairly soon. The U.S. then exploded 23 nuclear weapons there. One was Castle Bravo, a hydrogen bomb equivalent to 7 thousand Hiroshima bombs.  The declaration designating Bikini as a UN World Heritage site reads, in part: "The atoll symbolizes the dawn of the nuclear age, despite its paradoxical image of peace and of earthly paradise."

At the moment, no more than half a dozen caretakers live on Bikini, most work as guides for scuba divers, who descend from posh live aboard boats to explore the wrecks of, among others. The aircraft carrier USS Saratoga and the Japanese Battleship Nagato.

An upbeat assessment by Lawrence Livermore Labs in 2012 concluded that the island could be made safe to live on, but there's no money for a clean-up and apparently little interest from Bikini Islanders to move to a home very few of them have ever seen. Most now live either in Majuro, the Capital of the Marshall Islands, or on the small island set aside for them, Kili. U.S. Government compensation provides each $550 a year. But by law, the Resettlement Trust Fund can only be used in the Marshall Islands. As Kili and other low lying islands face rising waters, the Bikini Council wants Congress to allow that money to be used for re-location elsewhere. Primarily, to the United States.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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